Recently we were invited to a Taste Off of sorts where local wines were pitted against “best selling wines” from other more-recognized wine producing regions to “prove” the local wines were better. We were unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. But as I was reading the invitation, the analytical and cynical attorney part of my brain thought back to one of my favorite lines from one of my least favorite classes,
“There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.”
What did my professor mean? Statistics can be manipulated to bring about any sort of results rather positive or negative that one wishes to produce. Take an old one from a television commercial; “4 out of 5 Dentists recommend Toothpaste Brand A.” Does this mean that 80% of all dentists prefer this particular brand? It’s possible, I suppose. But it also could mean that only 5 dentists were given a sampling of (1) the advertiser’s toothpaste and (2) a really sweet toothpaste. Say one of the dentists worked with children exclusively, and he thought the sweet tasting paste would get the kids to brush — so he voted for that one. The other four worked with adults and picked the advertiser’s. Does that mean the advertiser has a better toothpaste? No, it just meant that all factors for testing were not the same, and the results could be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome.
Suppose it was a beer taste off. A mass-produced “best selling beer” is usually not going to beat a microbrew when your panel is made up of beer connoisseurs. So, I’m suspect when someone pits a local favorite against a “best-selling” anything. Best selling among whom? The general public? Laboratory monkeys? College men? Menopausal women? Because all these things might provide a different “best seller.”
Likewise, temperature can affect wine tasting and wine competition results.
Temperature Alters Competition Results
I was involved in one particular competition that favors the local and mass-produced wines in a number of ways. First, the wine had to be available in the state: that would include local wines which are not required by law to go through a distributor, and all the best-selling mass produced wines carried by all of the distributors. It knocks out a number of small production out-of-state wineries who cannot get the local cartel to carry its brands — not enough profit margin. And too much hassle when it comes to state distribution laws. So we’ve already limited the competition. Then there was the competition itself.
The serving and ambient temperature were not optimum for tasting. Either by coincidence or design, the serving temperature favored local red wines which are typically lower in alcohol and higher in sweetness. All wines were served at 46 degrees. Then there was the room temperature. The morning half of the competition was devoted to whites. Someone had not turned the air down and the judging area was at least 70 degrees. Historically the local sweeter whites win medals, but this year the temperature of the room allowed the wines to warm up more quickly and exposed any flaws in the wines usually masked by the icy serving temperature.
Then there were the reds. By the afternoon, the room has chilled down to an icy 50 degrees. Everyone was in layers to keep his or her teeth from chattering. Out came the wines at 46 degrees and off to the judging tables. And what was the result? Wines rated 90 and above by the likes of Robert M. Parker, Jr., Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, Wine Enthusiast and one particular wine ranked in the top 20 of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of the Year didn’t earn a medal. Wines rated much lower by the aforementioned sources were judged much higher by our competition judges.
After the competition we were invited to sample the wines from the actual bottles. I grabbed a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon I knew to be quite well-balanced and highly rated (WS96) to share with my colleagues. I had tasted it many times including at the winery itself. But today, it was ice cold, bitter and none of its complexity came through. It fact, all I could really taste were tannins and alcohol. Of course, my colleagues were less than impressed. I encouraged them to let the wine warm up in their glass and allow it to open up a bit. But in a 50 degree room there was little chance of enjoying the wine as it was intended to be served.
Proper Serving Temperatures
Don’t let poor serving temperatures spoil your or your guests’ tasting experience. The most important thing to remember in serving wine is to avoid extremities. Over chilling kills the flavor and aroma; too much warmth makes the wine taste bland. The following guidelines will help ensure that you’ll enjoy your wine to its fullest!
* Champagne and Sparkling Wines: 40° to 45°F (4.5° to 7°C )
* Whites: 45° to 50°F (7° to 10°C )
* Rosés and Light Reds: 50° to 55°F (10° to 12.5°C )
* Medium-Bodied Reds (Pinot Noir or Chianti): 55° to 60°F (12.5° to 15.5°C )
* Full-Bodied Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon): 60° to 65°F (15.5° to 18°C )
And remember, while not all competitions are created equal, even the most controlled circumstances don’t always produce the same results. A gold, is not always a gold! Choose your wines from a trusted source, and if possible, after tasting them yourself. The right serving temperature can make all the difference!